Legislature Heads Into Overtime; Criminal Justice Reforms Get Second Chance
In the waning hours of the legislative session Wednesday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s much-publicized Second Chance Society bill and a bill to address the use of excessive force by police looked like they were dead.
But as time ran out at least one bill was added to the call for the special session to implement the budget legislation. The call to special session specifically will include debate on the excessive force bill and may include components of the Second Chance Society. The legislation will be debated again sometime before June 30.
“We live to fight another day,” said Rep. Bruce Morris, D-Norwalk, who chairs the Black and Puerto Rican caucus.
But how did two bills popular with Democrats nearly die on the House floor?
The number one priority for the 28-member Black and Puerto Rican caucus has been the excessive force bill, which would require all police officers to receive training in bias-free policing and equip them with body cameras to record their activities. The body camera portion of the legislation would have cost $15 million for the first year, which the state planned to borrow.
Around 10:30 p.m. when it looked like time was running out, members of the caucus began to mount a filibuster on the Connecticut Grown legislation — a bill to define what is considered Connecticut-grown. The filibuster got the attention of legislative leadership and it wasn’t long before the Black and Puerto Rican caucus was included in discussions regarding the call to special session.
Meanwhile, Malloy’s staffers were negotiating with Republicans over the wording of his Second Chance Society proposal. Republican leadership, which may still foster some hard feelings against Malloy for his statements about lawmakers who didn’t support his proposal, wasn’t about to ask its members to limit debate as time ran out.
Malloy didn’t address a joint chamber after the midnight adjournment.
Debate on the governor’s proposal, which would help reduce the number of nonviolent offenders put in jail and ease the transition for those getting out, was temporarily halted with just a few hours to go in the session by Republicans.
The bill would have eliminated mandatory prison time for possession of illegal drugs within 1,500 feet of a school. Advocates of the bill, including Malloy, say the so-called drug-free school zone law is responsible for the mass incarceration of people of color, who tend to live in urban areas completely covered by the zones because of the high number of neighborhood schools.
Members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus held a press conference at 10:30 p.m. with the president of the Connecticut chapter of the NAACP to demand that House leadership call a vote on the excessive force bill, one of the caucus’s main priorities this session.
The bill aims to avoid situations like those in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, and elsewhere, where unarmed black men were killed by police officers. The bill would equip every police officer in the state with a body camera to record their activities. It makes the state or town that employs the officer liable if they interfere with private citizens who record police activity.
“We are deeply concerned that the leadership has not brought this bill up,” Connecticut NAACP President Scot X. Esdaile said late Wednesday. “It’s extremely important that this bill gets passed. Individuals in our community have been abused by law enforcement and we want these cameras on police officers so people can see, the community can see, and it’s transparent what’s happening in our communities throughout the state and throughout this nation.”
A Washington Post analysis released last week used police reports, local news accounts and other sources to find that 385 people in the United States had been fatally shot by police during the first five months of 2015. The analysis found that about half the victims were white and half were minorities, while two-thirds of unarmed victims were black or Hispanic. When it adjusted for local population, the analysis found that blacks were killed at three times the rate of whites or other minorities.
In addition to the excessive force bill and possibly components of the Second Chance Society proposal, lawmakers will return in the next few weeks to approve bills that implement the $40.3 billion state budget.
Christine Stuart contributed to this report.